A Travis County grand jury has indicted State Rep. Dawnna Dukes on abuse-of-office charges. A conviction could put her behind bars for up to 28 years, along with up to $138,000 in fines.
She has been charged with 13 felony counts of falsifying records to collect reimbursements for travel not related to her state duties. She also faces misdemeanor charges for using state funds to cover an employee’s gas money, driving her daughter to school, and using campaign funds for personal purposes.
Former staff members came forward with the allegations, leading to investigations by the state auditor’s office and the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers’ findings prompted legal action from the Travis County DA’s office.
Citing health issues related to a traffic accident and the demands of raising her young daughter, Dukes announced in September her plans to resign on the first day of the 85th Legislative Session. The delayed resignation would not only add $3,220 per year to her state pension, but also leave her district covering parts of Austin, Manor and Pflugerville without representation until a special election could be called.
This wouldn’t come to be, however, because she backtracked on her intention to resign and was sworn in for her 12th term. A slew of potential challengers have emerged amid the controversy to vie for her seat.
Dukes has also suffered a financial setback in her private affairs. An Austin American-Statesman investigation in October found little to show for a million dollars paid by the Austin Independent School District over a four-year period to Dukes’ consulting firm to diversify its vendors. Until they were informed by the Statesman, some AISD trustees weren’t even aware that Dukes’ $253,000 per-year contract had been extended. Having already launched its own internal effort to carry out the same functions, the district cancelled its contract with Dukes.
As for Dukes’ more pressing legal woes, she issued this statement on her Facebook page:
“Of course I am disappointed but I expected that if sworn into office on January tenth that this indictment would follow. All I can say today is that I will be entering a plea of not guilty.”